Kake senior wrestler Aaron Billy earned a trip to state by finishing third at last weekend's Region V-Class 2A-3A meet.
But in Billy's case, the story is not just in the accomplishment. It's also in the journey he took to get there.
Like many youths in small Southeast towns that lack wrestling clubs, Billy's first experience on the mat came in his freshman year. He won a couple of matches that first season, Kake coach Rick Mills said.
But when Billy wrestled for the Thunderbirds his sophomore year, he failed to win a single match. He came back for his junior year, and went winless again.
Billy said he almost didn't go out for wrestling this year, but "people kept asking me to keep with it," he said by phone Monday.
Those supporters have been congratulating him since he returned from the region meet.
Billy entered this year's region tourney with a 5-10 record. It was better than any previous season, but seemingly left him a long shot to qualify for state from the field of six at 215 pounds. Only the top three wrestlers in each weight class at the region meet advanced to this weekend's Class 1A-2A-3A state tournament in Homer.
Things didn't look good after Billy lost his opening match to Pelican's Fred Phillips. But he staved off elimination in the consolation bracket, edging Klawock's Tyler Hoppe in a 5-4 decision, to set up a rematch with Phillips in the consolation final. Things went differently that time around.
"It was a really close match, but I beat him by a point," Billy said by phone Monday.
Billy won, 5-4, to earn a state berth in his last shot - after two winless seasons.
"He just worked his tail off," Mills said.
Billy and fellow Thunderbird Matt Ashenfelter will be going to Homer later this week for the state meet. Billy said he'd like to post a few more victories before his high school career comes to an end.
Billy's accomplishment at the region meet did not go unnoticed by his opponents. Tom Cox, coach of the region champion Petersburg Vikings, said he told his wrestlers to remember the intensity and perseverance displayed by Billy and all the Kake wrestlers.
Mills said Billy personifies the hopes of many small-town coaches.
"From the very beginning, every coach in Southeast encourages kids to stay in the game," Mills said. "It's really difficult to stay in the game when you get beat so often. This is a life lesson, to stay with it."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.